Small fleeting moments
After spending Spring Break abroad, perspectives are altered
This spring break I spent eight days in Brazil with the Seeds of Hope trip, a much-needed departure from my life in Charlottesville and the anxieties and fixations that accompany it. As I write this, I am surrounded by a pile of dirty clothes spilling from my open suitcase, the books and papers from my midterm week of hell still spread across my bedroom floor, but in the middle of this chaotic jumble of odds and ends that is my life I feel a certain sense of balance, a calm inner-assurance that has come from taking a week to exist outside of my self.
I feel like a lot of the time I’m in Charlottesville, it’s hard for me to be reminded of how lucky I am, to take into account the small little blessings that pass me by everyday. I’m always so caught up in running around and moving from one task to the next—from babysitting to finishing all my reading to writing my column to driving out to my internship—that a lot of the time my life seems more like a series of small to-do lists that are always in need of checking off rather than one big, complete picture. Brazil kind of changed that for me, allowing me to be removed from this obsession with the minute details of my life and placed into a context that was bigger than myself.
One night while sleeping on the roof of the trade school in which we were staying, I woke up in the middle of the night and walked over to the open window and stared out at the rows of favelas that stretched out in a series of endless waves across the large spread that is Sao Paolo. I was instantly struck by how many people there existed outside of my own world that I had never known about and probably never would. Yet there they were, placed within their own complex and intricate worlds that stretched themselves out and had roots of their own just like mine, with all their own fears and complexes mirroring the ones I saw everyday within myself.
In this moment I experienced the humbling realization of how small and singular my life was in this grand scheme of things, my existence in that moment comprising just another one of the many being carried out on this earth, yet in the face of this daunting fact I felt a deep sense of gratitude. Here I was, just some 21 year old girl who would probably never change the world or make some staggering social impact, but I had the opportunity to leave my life at home behind and experience the one of other’s for a while, and through that fact alone I was thankful.
It’s funny how I had to be removed from my life in Charlottesville to remind me of how grateful I am for it, this experience reminding me of how much I take for granted when I am so submersed within my time at U.Va. that I can’t step back and realize how wonderful and fleeting it is. So many of the people I spoke to in Brazil would never have the opportunity to travel outside of the country or to attend college yet still exuded a sense of gratitude that originated not from the accomplishments so many kids my age strive for but from the relationships and bonds they created and shared with others around them, manifesting their thanks for their lives by sharing and giving of themselves to others.
A lot of the time I feel like I have to make myself directly aware of how appreciative I should be of my life, feeling the urge to sign up for volunteering or to make some big gesture to show how grateful I am. Yet I don’t think that’s what being truly thankful is all about—I think it is a more kind of quiet grace that comes from simply taking the love and kindness you have received in your own life and giving it back to others, wholeheartedly and fully returning it out into the world with no expectation of anything in return. We recognize the good in life everyday through these small tokens of compassion we hand out through our relationships and interactions with others, and in this we all accomplish a sense of gratitude, no matter how little or fleeting it may seem.
It took driving along the coast of Brazil to make me truly realize this, staring out the window at the beautiful, lush mountains rushing past and feeling a pang of homesickness for my own Blue Ridge Mountains that form the backdrop for the life I have created here for myself at U.Va. Maybe the memories and the stories I have from Brazil will fade and I will forget them but I don’t think I’ll ever lose the recollection of the thanks I felt for my time there and in turned gained for my life here, realizing the good and meaning within this small little existence I call my own.
Mimi’s column runs biweekly Mondays. She can be reached at email@example.com